Hue Robertson

Glasgow 2014 and the Art of Motivating Large Communities

By Simon Couch, Director of RPM Promotional People 

Simon Couch

The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games are now recruiting for an army of 15,000 volunteers in a move that is no doubt designed to emulate the outstanding success of last year’s 70,000 Olympic Games Makers. But just how can you go about motivating a group of volunteers on such a massive scale?

Last year’s legions of Games Makers at the London Olympics created an open welcome that touched millions globally. And they’ve, rightly, been named by top brass as the real heroes behind the games. But how on earth can each individual Games Maker be trusted to consistently deliver the organisers’ central message of warmth and enthusiasm? As the person responsible for recruiting passionate promotional people at RPM, I thought it would be helpful to analyse how LOCOG did it:

Search: LOCOG whittled down 70,000 Games Makers from a staggering 250,000 applicants. They took the time to meet everyone individually for 15 minutes at a relaxed and informal ‘meet and tell’. That equates to 62,500 hours (aka 2,604 days or 7.4 years) worth of round-the-clock meetings. Safe to say, finding the right people takes time. Questions such as: ‘how do you go beyond your personal best?’ immediately showed applicants’ personality and desire for the role, regardless of their age or status. The scores of all meetings were immediately uploaded onto a central database which enabled both a slick and fair judging process.

Inspire: Once you’ve found the right people, you need to inspire them with a common purpose and a sense of pride. Of course, offering up the chance to be a face of Great Britain helped. LOCOG delivered two training days for all Games Makers. These were run throughout the country in inspiring venues, delivered by inspiring people. Each session started with a video of Lord Coe talking about the ethos and culture of London 2012 and was followed by a slightly more comedic take on the games by marathon man Eddie Izzard. Closer to the events, the Games Makers were trained in practical skills at their designated Olympic location, giving them a chance to meet and bond with their new colleagues and also offering sneak-peaks of Olympic sites.

Respect: Be it volunteer or paid worker, efforts must be acknowledged. Before the opening ceremony Lord Coe and Danny Boyle were on site mingling with the volunteers, referring to them by first name (all Games Makers wore name badges on the first day). The same attitude ran from top to bottom, with leaders instilling the same approach throughout their teams. And this last point is crucial: instilling a ‘one team’ mentality is the key to motivating on a mass scale.

Reward: Rewards don’t always come in financial packages. Games Makers were rewarded with a sense of pride and privilege, as instilled by LOCOG themselves. Of course, added initiatives helped too. Volunteers were given complimentary breakfasts, daily pin badges of honour, signed letters from Lord Coe and Jacques Rogge, snazzy adidas kit and an inscribed relay baton on completion of the job. Sometimes it’s the small gestures that count. LOCOG’s gratitude of a job well done was reward enough in itself. And getting thanked by a global audience and receiving a standing ovation at both closing ceremonies gave them a share of Games legacy.

So what lessons can we, the events industry, draw from LOCOG’s success? To motivate people on this immense scale, volunteers cannot be viewed as a commodity, but rather a critical part of the event-goers’ experience. After all, it’s human contact that often leaves the longest lasting impression. These principles, of course, equally apply to the motivation of paid event staff, whatever the scale. Although money is a motivation, it’s these extras that create genuinely passionate brand ambassadors.

The size of LOCOG’s task was huge, yet they executed it fantastically well. A collection of basic man management principles, coupled with a rigorous organisational structure and some considerate touches, resulted in a successful outcome. If Glasgow’s volunteer recruiters can follow this precedent, we may well be lucky enough to experience another feel good summer of national pride.

  • Giles Cattle

    There is some valuable insight in this article however, LOCOG’s real challenge was channelling the passion and desire the Games Makers showed in the application stage into behaviours that complemented the operational tasks they needed to deliver at Games time.
    To do this, LOCOG carefully mapped the Games Maker journey. The selection events, produced by Innovision, incidentally, were the first step towards the Games. LOCOG then commissioned Crown to produce a series of mass audience Orientation Events at Wembley Arena, for up to 10,000 Games Makers at a time. There then followed role specific and venue specific training, which LOCOG managed internally.
    We worked with LOCOG as strategic and creative event partners to conceive and deliver the Orientation Events, and your comment about human contact leaving the longest lasting impression rings true.
    The events were as much about empowering the Games Makers as individuals, who together would realise the success of the Games, as they were a shared experience, where Games Makers met with thousands of their peers.
    The power of a shared experience on this scale was a perfect “opening ceremony” to the long journey to the Olympic Park, and indeed venues across the UK, and it reinforced commitment and retention (retention of volunteers was significantly higher than at any previous comparable Games).
    Also, by communicating from the outset how important the Games Makers would be to the success of the Games, inherent even in their title, LOCOG turned volunteers into engaged and motivated employees (albeit without remuneration) rather than temporary event staff.
    It’s an important distinction we use when analysing how to motivate these groups and organisations should be careful not to expect the same level of passion and commitment in paid event staff if they provide some “extras”. Our proposition is growing brand belief where repeated positive encounters through insight drive trust, loyalty and ultimately belief in a brand in internal and external audiences alike. Our experience with the Games Makers shows that genuinely passionate brand ambassadors are not created instantly, and consumers ultimately understand the difference between passionate employees and paid event staff working to a script.